The Well Inside: A Retelling of the Story of the Samaritan Woman
You know what the worse thing is? They treat you like a piece of furniture - the cheap ones. The expensive ones… they got handled better than I did. I married five of them. Not one of them did it for love. I gave it my all. I cooked, I cleaned, I served, but was never loved. I even drew water from the well by myself. Chivalry is extinct! Neither was there any gratitude or appreciation. The man I live with now is no better. I was hoping that sixth time was the charm. I am the kind of girl whose dreams never come true. You think I would learn.
Not that I am perfect. I have my kinks. But who doesn’t? May be the seventh time will be the charm. That is why I have not married this new guy yet. I keep him happy and it is working for the time being. However getting about town is a multi-layered challenge. Just because I have had six men, they think I am a whore. The other men look at me like I was piece of dirt. I am not! I simply have this gaping hole inside that no one has been able to fill. Some of the other girls understand that. The men are clueless. I tried to speak to one of them about it and he got up and left. It is very hard to explain. The emptiness, the abyss, the void, the bottomless pit… if someone emptied a well into me, it would feel like a trickle. I am also a Samaritan. A Samaritan and a woman - that is not a good combination. Even to draw water from the well, I try to go when it is quiet. You see, my reputation precedes. And then there are the occasional Jewish men who pass this way. You do not want even their shadow to fall on you. They think they own us all. Well, all men do. My chances of not being disparaged is best when the sun is scorching. It’s as if the heat of the parched ground keeps the beasts indoors.
I hope to get to the well at noon today and return unscathed. The scathing last night was enough for the day. Gathering every ounce of my audacity, I reluctantly made my way to the well. I saw from the distance that somebody was already at the well. “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Could I not get a break?” I have to draw water, though. The cisterns are all empty. I decided to brave it. Just when I thought I had drawn enough water and escaped the habitual ridicule, I thought I heard him say, “Give me a drink.” Remember what I said about the Jewish men thinking they own us? He walks to our well and demands our water. Should he not have come with a bucket? Some nerve he has to talk to a lone woman.
“Are you talking to me? Do you need help?”
“Give me a drink.” His tone was courteous.
“You must not be from here. Men around here do not talk that way.”
I could see from the corner of my eyes that he was looking at me. I let my eyes wander as he said, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
His voice was firm yet gentle. He has the most haunting voice. Was he flirting with me? May be seventh time is the charm.
“What kind of water is ‘living water?’ This well is the best one in the region. It was given to us by our father, Jacob. You cannot do better than that, can you? Even if you can, you do not have anything to draw this living water with. Good try!” I was ready for an argument. But he spoke every so gently and said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“What did you just say?”“Did you say your water will become a spring of water inside me?”
Darn it, he knows it. If only I could be lucky enough to not let my reputation ruin me. He is not flirting; he is toying with me. Or, does he know about this abyss inside of me?
“Why did you say, “spring of water” inside me? You do not know what that does to me.”
“Yes, I do. I know what that does to everybody.”
He is not like the men I know. He seems perceptive. This is the moment. I could just walk away and not care about him. But then, if I could get his secret, I will never have to come to the well again. He needs my bucket. Then again, I could just walk away and forget that this even happened. I decided to use my charm and said, “So what’s the secret? Give me some of this water and I will not have to run into people like you again.”
“Go call your husband and come back.”
“Listen Mister! Stay out of my life.You do not want to go there.”
“Is it because you do not have a husband? Or are you embarrassed about the other five?
“How do you know about that? Why do you have you to bring this up now? What’s it got to do with the living water? What are you? A prophet?
“If only you knew!”
“If only I knew. If only I knew what?” “Let me tell you what I know. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem. You know we are right!”
“Woman!” he said.
Did he just call me “woman?” Sounds rude but that is better than what most men call me. It feels different when HE calls me woman. A chill went down my spine.
“Woman! Think about it this way. Is where you worship more important than whom you worship? The days are coming when people will stop worrying about the unimportant. You are not going to like this, woman, but the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
He makes so much sense. Why don’t the other men talk like this?
“You are right. I am the Spirit and truth kind of girl. I think more on the inside. Every man I have been with thinks only on the outside. Its been years now and I have an emptiness inside. It scares people. It scares me. I want the Spirit. I want this truth. I wish someone could quench my thirst. I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
He paused. And then, looking right at me, he said,
“Woman, the one standing in front of you, is HE!”
I stood there in stunned silence…. For the first time I let my eyes fix on him. He was not merely looking at me - he was looking through me. I did not have to bare my soul to him. It was as if he was in my soul. For the first time, I felt a stirring in the deepest part of my being. I cannot explain, but it was as if I was standing face-to-face with eternity. My knees trembled, my lips quivered, my eyes welled up, my heart felt like cottonwool. Even deeper inside, I felt a well was springing up. I felt the emptiness fill. I felt an inexplicable calm. And then, quite unawares, my hands folded in front of me, I fell to my knees and whispered, “I believe.” After what seemed like an eternity, I felt his arms around me. Tears flowed freely on to the ground. He picked me up. For the first time, I felt like a woman. May be, seventh time is the charm. It happened very differently than I imagined, but, dreams do come true.
The sudden scuffling of feet took me totally by surprise. There were at least twelve of his friends, their eyes popping in amazement and suspicion. But, today, on this day, unlike any other day, nothing mattered. I felt different. I felt refreshed. I felt redeemed. I felt free. I felt me. Only the Messiah can do this. He told me everything I have ever done. I have to go the tell the other girls. I have to tell everybody to come and meet him. As I began to run, just a moment, I stopped. I turned back to look at him. I could only get one glimpse of him. He nodded at me as if to say, “It will be fine.” Every fear I ever had of facing my past or the people who ridiculed me was behind me. Watch out! This is the new me.” As I began my sprint to the village, I heard someone scream, “Don’t forget your water jar!” “I don’t need it anymore,” I screamed back. “He has quenched my thirst!”
- Fr. Satish Joseph